Yesterday public television in Seattle celebrated their decade-long relationship with the just-deceased self-help writer Wayne Dyer, and to honor the author the station was replaying one of his final talks.
The theme of his presentation alludes me; it was something about Five Steps to Something or Other, the secrets of which were contained in his new book, which was touted tastefully throughout his talk.
I decided to give the show a try, despite the fact that I’ve a strong aversion to listening to other people talk or write about ‘how’ life should be lived or experienced.
Prior to the advent of the Internet, this phenomenon of people giving advice about living was always buzzing in the background of life, but not in the omnipresent way it does now.
The Net has mutated what used to be a semi-contained industry (the self-help, how-to world) into a bacchanalia of yapping gurus and guides — billions of bromides pinging back and forth across blogs, YouTube and social media every hour.
The world, as the Net depicts it, is divided into distinct camps: Those with electronic devices doing nothing. And those doing nothing but writing or talking about doing stuff and then selling that information on an electronic device to people that aren’t doing anything.
While watching the PBS tribute to Wayne Dyer talking about Wayne Dyer and Wayne Dyer’s new book about doing stuff to be a better person like Wayne Dyer, my fascination and agitation landed not on Dyer, but on the audience.
Their eagerness and willingness to be told how they could improve their lives felt heartbreaking. Because the camera would periodically cutaway to random scans of the crowd, I was privy to dozens of eyeholes dilated in moist receptivity as Dyer spoonfed them a list of dos and don’ts for a ‘better life.’
Dyer had conveniently crafted these pointers into a list that was transformed into an illustration of a ladder with five distinct steps. And because our culture is obsessed to the point of mania with lists, the childlike image of the ladder remained projected behind Dyer as his proverbs tumbled forth.
I squirmed. Each ‘pointer’ or step on the ladder was related to Dyer’s personal existence — as if I were interested. (I write this flatly, not from a place of mean-spiritedness but fact, I wasn’t intrigued, though I’m sure many in the audience were.)
Dyer’s peculiar mix of humility and hubris was incredibly distracting. I kept thinking, “God, this is so brilliant. You missed your calling (and million$) by not starting a church or movement.” And yet my eyeholes were bone-dry.
Too, this interweaving of the promise of a secret to be revealed (to better oneself or reach a financial goal), with Dyer’s insistent desire to give it to me was just weird.
I’ve long suggested that no one follows the how-tos of self-help books. Books of this ilk are akin to talismans that people keep on their nightstand to remind them of something or other that is supposed to make their life better while they continue to do what they’ve always done because in the end the only person anyone is interested in hearing from is oneself.
Gurdjieff‘s student, the writer O.R. Orage wrote: “Imagination as we use it, is simply an excess of desire over ability.” Self-help books allow for a kind of imaginary ability that turns out to be nothing more than a hybrid form of procrastination. This deluded state hovers about in the mind for a couple of weeks and then the book begins to gather dust on the nightstand.
Finally, perhaps, maybe, you get your shit together and act from some kind of gumption. Often this comes via desperation or is tied in with eleventh-hour providence. But whatever: “Yay, you’re off of your ass!”
Moving in life, doing things, takes courage and I’m fascinated by how and why humans have lost so much courage, the scale of which you can track by watching the bestseller status of various self-help and how-to books.
Or just listen to the predominate message within politics, which goes something like: “Vote for ___ and she’ll guarantee that you and your family will survive this weird post-industrial society you’re struggling to survive in.” But why must I wait for Bernie Sanders to make my life better? (I think Bernie’s great by the way — but why displace my courage and faith unto him?)
So, the point of this post isn’t to make fun of self-help books but to act as a reminder or a spirited nudge. A reminder to pay attention to the impulse to buy books (or listen incessantly to TED talks about things you should be doing yourself) that are stand-ins for your goals and the kind of focus and exertion of will required to fulfill your purpose.
What is the solution to escaping the tyranny of the how-to-self-help-yourself stuff?
Well, if I told you that you’d be in the same cycle I’ve outlined above. Instead, I’ll offer some insights and observations that seem closer to (and are germane with) the universal. These are suggestions for you to poke at and entertain in passing. Lightly. Read more
When you’re a writer Facebook becomes a peculiar problem.
Famous writer Zadie Smith, in her list of 10 rules for writers, says that working on a computer without wi-fi is essential. I guess she was tempted, while writing, to make too many visits to The New York Review of Books and start grazing.
In this post, I’m using the word peculiar to evoke its deeper etymology. Peculiar’s Late Middle English usage was to indicate: “Belonging to one person.” But even more peculiar (and further back in time) is the word’s Latin origin and usage, which is related to cattle and how those cattle belonged to you, were your property.
The Latin etymological tree goes like this:
pecu (cattle) > peculium (property) > peculiaris (of private property) > peculiar (particular, special).
So this is good to note, because you need to guard your stock when you’re working on your own creative stuff; to keep your words in your own writing stockade — rather than let them roam too much within the Facebook dream field. Grazing.
Secrets, Tips and Suggestions
Over the years, as a writer and incessant Facebooker, I’ve found that I can use Facebook for:
1. A well-deserved breather.
2. A maneuver to avoid an impending inner-critic attack. All writers know the inner-critic’s voice and the damage it does: “This is horrid and Dad was right, I’ve no talent. I should have stayed a cashier.” If I stay there grinding away on a paragraph in tandem with my inner-critic’s voice grinding away on me, well, I’m fucked. The abuse is dehumanizing.
The inner-critic’s job is to sabotage whatever creative expression you undertake and insure that you remain identified with the idea that you’ve no skill or talent.
Kids are psychic sponges and retain every judgement aimed in their direction — from the moment of conception forward, those critiques eventually morph into the inner-critic’s voice.
I have a friend whose sister had a baby girl that she’d called an “asshole” so frequently, from babyhood onward, that whenever the toddler met someone outside the family circle she’d announce proudly: “I’m an asshole!”
So strategies must be developed to dodge (or defend) against the inner-critic. Facebook can — if used wisely — act as a respite, unplugging you from your inner-critic and its attack on your present-time creation.
3. An energizing or remedial moment: I’ve often been working on a chapter and then hopped out of Google Docs and into Facebook and bumped into a post from The Guardian about how a trapped starfish can detach its own foot, keep moving, and then grow a new foot later. And for some unknown reason, reading that random bit of weirdness galvanizes my creativity, back into its flow.
Or, conversely, whatever particular post I land on will act as a non sequitur that unravels what I was previously laboring over; revealing that my effort was, indeed, shitty, and that I need to stop writing and start reading about starfish that unhinge their feet.
4. A Dada-like exposure to chance or what I call ‘synchronic serendipity’. Dada or Dadaism was an European avant-garde art movement from the early 20th-century where the Dada artists employed randomness, chance, and synchronic mirroring to create their creations.
Dadaism became very popular with artists willing to enter the realm of the irrational and illogical to achieve their creative inspirations and creations. And like all magical processes it involved rituals of various sorts.
Facebook can be employed in a similar way for a writer. The other day, frustrated with a difficult section I was writing about the planet Mercury, I stopped, logged into Facebook, and the first post I encountered was a post about the actor Brad Pitt‘s alleged bi-sexuality.
This was the perfect ingredient I needed for inspiring a point within the chapter about Mercury’s hermaphroditic nature. Shameless plug: You’ll love this part of the book when you read it. I promise. Read more
“What people today do of fear of irrational elements in themselves and in other people is to put tools and mechanisms between themselves and the unconscious world.
This protects them from being grasped by the the frightening and threatening aspects of irrational experience.
I am saying nothing whatever, I am sure it will be understood, against technology or mechanics in themselves.
What I am saying is that danger always exists that our technology will serve as a buffer between us and nature, a block between us and the deeper dimensions of our experience.
Tools and techniques ought to be an extension of consciousness, but they can just as easily be a protection against consciousness. This means that technology can be clung to, believed in, and depended on far beyond its legitimate sphere, since it also serves as a defense against our fears of irrational phenomena.
Thus the very success of technological creativity … is a threat to its own existence.”
“Life itself is an exile. The way home is not the way back.” –Colin Wilson
A fellow Cancerian, Colin Wilson‘s seminal book The Outsider aggravated a place in my soul that eventually became my salvo against the confines of consensus reality.
Meaning, his close examination of individuals who lived as poets or artists or occultists or just peculiar mutations within our species — the unclassifiables — got under my skin when I was a teenager and helped forge my path forward as an adult — with courage and enthusiasm — to explore astrology, art, poetry, metaphysics and the teachings of Gurdjieff.
Years later he recounted: “As a young man I was scornful about the supernatural but as I have got older, the sharp line that divided the credible from the incredible has tended to blur; I am aware that the whole world is slightly incredible.”
His claim that the “mark of greatness is always intuition, not logic” supported my own instincts and goaded, in a way, my disinterest in hard science, with its over-emphasis on materialism and chilly all-or-nothing proclamations about reality. Which, if you study enough science, you soon discover are made defunct decades later by a new brood of giant-headed blowhards declaring the latest explanations for everything.
Wilson always wrote from a wild mixture of wonder, awe, strict discipline (his output was beyond prolific) and the impulse to explore every possible facet of any given subject, especially if it involved the otherworldly. The weirder, the better. Even lurid subjects like crime, murder and perversion benefited from his unflinching eye and inquiry, driving my Moon and Saturn in Scorpio into rapt attention that bordered on obsession.
There will be lots of homages to read online today, better and more comprehensively written than mine. Find them and then begin your own journey into Wilson’s wondrous worlds. Start with The Outsider. A rite of passage for every human being.
But I wanted to post my shock and sadness and sense of loss upon hearing the news this morning that Colin had died. I don’t like the feeling of being on the planet without him around — as corny as that sounds; but it’s a testament to how thoroughly his essence intertwined with and impacted my path.
It’s like I’ve lost a soul brother.